A wide variety and a world premiere11/5/2014
Every now and then, Des Moines plays host to one of the movers and shakers of performance. This September, Andrew Lloyd Webber slipped quietly into the Civic Center to catch the reboot of his “Phantom of the Opera.” This weekend, watching the Paul Taylor Dance Company, will be Paul Taylor himself. Watching closely, no doubt. The Civic Center performance will include the premiere of his latest piece, “Sea Larks.”
“Paul always comes to his premieres,” explained Laura Halzack, one of 16 principal dancers on tour. “He’s still very involved through the whole process.”
On the company’s website, “Sea Lark” appears as “Opus 141.” Over the years, this enormous catalogue has garnered Taylor dozens of awards, including a Macarthur “genius grant.” He began dreaming up his numbers in the 1950s while still a dance soloist with New York ensembles like Martha Graham’s. Graham, in fact, was one of his first fans. When she called him “the naughty boy of dance,” back in ’57, she said it with a smile.
The piece Graham enjoyed took serious risks, and it earned a famous non-review: a blank page in the New York Times. Yet if you ask a long-time associate such as Halzack — she studied in Taylor’s school before becoming a company member — the work expresses something essential to American dance.
“Paul’s got such a muscular style rooted in the body,” she said.
So while “Sea Lark” features music by French composer Francis Poulenc, and other pieces use the music of Handel or Bach, Taylor has created dances that go with lighter material. One “opus” segues from Bach to the “American primitive guitar” of John Fahey, and another uses The Mamas and The Papas.
These are often “period pieces,” Halzack, who has danced in a wide variety of costumes from Astaire-style black tie to hippie-era tie-dye, said.
Then there’s one of her favorites, “Company B,” set for presentation in Des Moines. The music is an old Andrews Sisters hit, and listeners will likely recall Bette Midler’s high-energy cover.
“It’s just such fun to do,” says Halzack. “It’s so uptempo at times.”
“Company B” generates chills. It’s powerful to watch, because behind the stage-front jitterbugging are men in shadow, falling.
The piece expresses both the triumph and tragedy of America at war and captures a place and a time.
Still, Taylor’s latest remains the dance she and the others are looking forward to in Des Moines. The company tours a lot, visiting exotic locales like Paris, France, and Bangkok, Thailand, yet no audience matters quite as much as Taylor himself does.
“It’s so exciting for us knowing he’s there,” said Halzack.
Overheard in the Lobby: Talks have begun for annual awards in local theater. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.